Haiti does not have a single vaccine to offer its more than 11 million people more than a year after the pandemic began, raising concern among health experts that the well-being of Haitians is being neglected as violence and political instability are deepening throughout the country.
So far, Haiti is slated to receive just 756,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through a United Nations program aimed at ensuring that countries most in need receive Covid-19 injections. The free doses were scheduled to arrive no later than May, but delays are expected because Haiti missed a deadline and the key Indian manufacturer is now prioritizing an increase in domestic demand.
“Haiti has recently completed some of the essential documentation that are prerequisites for processing a shipment order,” said Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a Geneva-based public-private partnership that co-manages the Covax effort supported by the ONU.
The country also did not request a pilot program in which it would have received some of its assigned doses early, according to the Pan American Health Organization. However, a spokeswoman praised his other efforts against the pandemic, including strengthening hospital preparedness.
Meanwhile, a human rights research center cited in a new US State Department report found that the Haitian government misappropriated more than $ 1 million in aid for the coronavirus. The report also accused government officials of spending $ 34 million on “greater opacity,” bypassing an agency charged with approving state contracts.
Lauré Adrien, director general of Haiti’s Ministry of Health, blamed the vaccine’s delay on the scrutiny of AstraZeneca injections and is concerned that the country lacks the necessary infrastructure to ensure proper storage of the vaccine, adding that her agency prefers a single dose vaccine. AstraZeneca requires two doses.
“It is no secret that we do not have excellent conservation facilities,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we had all the parameters under control before we received the vaccine stocks.”
Adrien also noted that all the money his agency received has been properly spent, but said he could not speak on behalf of other agencies. A presidential spokesman did not return calls for comment.
Many poorer countries have experienced long waits for Covax vaccines as richer countries bought supplies, although most have received at least an initial shipment. Some took matters into their own hands, securing shots through donations and private deals.
The lack of vaccines in Haiti is due to the fact that it reports more than 12,700 cases and 250 deaths, figures that experts believe are not reported.
Ongoing protests and an increase in gang-related kidnappings and killings have some wondering how any vaccinations will be administered given the lack of stability along with a growing number of people who fear leaving their homes.
Perceptions also remain a great challenge.
While face masks remain mandatory in Haitian businesses, airport closures and curfews have long been lifted, and other precautions are rare.
“People don’t really believe in the coronavirus,” said Esther Racine, a 26-year-old mother of two whose father died in the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
Racine once worked as a housekeeper, but started selling face masks at the start of the pandemic, making a huge business with about 800 sales a month. Now, it barely sells 200.
“Look around you,” he said, greeting a maskless crowd that bustled around him in downtown Port-au-Prince. The only customers today are those who need a mask to enter a nearby grocery store, he said, adding that Haitians have other problems in mind: “People worry more about violence than about the virus.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism